The Israel Defense Forces are going on a war footing to help Israel combat the coronavirus, believing that the crisis could last for several months and even up to one year, Channel 13 reported Tuesday.
The military is drafting new orders that would give it the powers to act to help stem the crisis and was adapting its “Summer Cage” orders prepared for the event of a wide-scale earthquake, the TV said.
This would allow the IDF to initially begin by assisting Israel’s medical system, possibly setting up hospitals and taking in patients. It could also put its logistical capabilities, including vehicles, drivers and other facilities at the government’s disposal.
It was also preparing plans, should the situation deteriorate, to enforce curfews and lockdowns on the civilian population, although the TV noted that such a possibility was still “a long way off.”
The report said that the IDF believes the crisis will last for several months, and even possibly up to a year, an assessment that was alluded to by Tuesday evening by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov.
“This is a huge crisis. We are only at the start of the campaign; the crux is yet before us,” Netanyahu told a press conference.
“I know the mission will take time, these kinds of events are not short,” Bar Siman-Tov said without giving a specific time-frame. “Maybe we will be surprised and it will be short, but we are preparing for it not to be.”
The IDF has already recalled most of its troops and told many of them to expect to remain on base for at least a month without leave amid efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Access to certain installations and bases would also be restricted.
As of Saturday, the IDF has principally focused on maintaining its operational capabilities in the face of the COVID-19 coronavirus, but the military was also preparing to step in and assist civilian authorities respond to the disease in the general public.
“Israel’s emergency stores are full and equipped for a variety of scenarios,” Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said Saturday.
Netanyahu was on Tuesday forced to reprimand Israelis for failing to grasp the gravity of the growing coronavirus crisis, urging them to stay home wherever possible.
“This isn’t child’s play, it’s not summer vacation, it’s a matter of life and death,” Netanyahu said at an evening press conference after media outlets reported extensively over the past two days on now jobless Israelis making use of their freed up time to enjoy the beach and public parks.
Charging that “too many” were failing to grasp the gravity of the situation, he urged Israelis to show “discipline and responsibility” in following social distancing instructions, avoiding public spaces and, whenever possible, staying home.
Fully five weeks after the first confirmed COVID-19 infection in Israel, no Israelis have yet died of the coronavirus — but both Netanyahu and Bar Siman-Tov said this would soon change.
“We assess that scenarios like in Italy and Spain can happen here too,” Bar Siman-Tov said. “In the coming days… the rate of new cases will rise — to 100 a day or more. We may come to a situation of hundreds more [cases] each day,” he said.
In the end, he said, “people will die — possibly even in the next few days.”
“To our sorrow, in our scenarios, many thousands [of Israelis] could die.” Thus the goal of Israel’s measures was to keep that number down by minimizing contagion, said Bar Siman-Tov.
The comments came as the Health Ministry announced on Tuesday evening that the number of confirmed infections in the country had reached 377, up from 304 in the morning — and as the global death toll passed 7,800.
“If we follow all the instructions, we will flatten the curve,” Bar Siman-Tov added. “There will still be those who die, and more who get sick, but we’ll manage to reach everyone,” he said.
He also called on Israelis not to visit their elderly parents or grandparents, who are at greater risk from the virus, and said those who feel unwell must stay home.
He, too urged, Israelis to take the ministry’s social distancing instructions seriously. “This isn’t a vacation given to you by the coronavirus. Our ability to reduce the numbers of sick depends on your behavior. We’d rather you followed our instructions. If necessary, we’ll enforce them,” he warned.
Netanyahu spoke of three new steps the government was taking to stem the spread of the contagion, including improving its ability to track those who might have been exposed to the virus using controversial “digital tracking” measures approved by the cabinet early Tuesday morning.
He said Israel would also significantly ramp up testing for the coronavirus to 3,000 tests per day, and ultimately a possible 5,000 tests a day — a figure that would make Israel number one in the world in tests per capita, he said.
And, he added, Israel’s hospitals had ordered an additional 1,000 respirators as they braced for an influx of patients.
The press conference came just hours after the Health Ministry announced sweeping new restrictions on movement meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The public was instructed not to go out to parks, playgrounds, the beach, pools, libraries, museums or other public places, the ministry said. Exceptions were permissible for taking out children and pets — in accordance with instructions for maintaining hygiene and limiting social contact. Among other measures: suspension of elective surgeries, cancellation of non-urgent dental treatments, and the stipulation that home deliveries be left outside customers’ doors, to avoid meetings between customers and delivery drivers.
Channel 12 news called the new instructions a government bid for a “voluntary lockdown.”
“These aren’t simple instructions. We are asking you to minimize as much as possible leaving your home,” Bar Siman-Tov said Tuesday afternoon.
But, he said, “Anywhere you visit might have a sick person present who could infect you. You yourself may be sick and not know it, and infect other people.”